Congo native expands horizons in the AF

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
At 15 years old, a Congo native, who spoke no English, departed for America on a journey that would change his life.

Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Staff Sgt. Alain Mukendi, an Aviano Airman Leadership School instructor, grew up speaking French along with three other African dialects. In 1999, his father won the Diversity Visa lottery, allowing his family to legally migrate and live in the United States. Two years later, Mukendi and his family made St. Louis, Mo. their new home.

"I hated it for the first six months, it was extremely difficult because it was a complete 180-degree change," said Mukendi. "From the culture to the language, everything was different. I was afraid to speak because I did not want to be made fun of."

Two weeks after arriving in St. Louis, Mukendi was enrolled in school where he managed to learn enough English to graduate in two years. A few months later, he made the decision to join the Unites States Air Force. Mukendi enlisted, steered by the benefits, not knowing how much more the Air Force would give him.

"I needed a root canal and it was going to cost me about 500 dollars to get it done," said Mukendi. "By chance I came across a recruiter, he explained the benefits and then I made one of the best decisions in my life."

As Mukendi made the journey to basic training, he learned to speak loud and clear despite the language barrier. He built the confidence needed throughout basic and technical training as he learned to be a leader among his peers.

"I was forced to speak in basic training but it was good for me," said Mukendi. "I had no choice but to execute and do my job as an Airman; I even became a red rope and helped lead 300 students."

As his confidence grew, so did his ability to effectively communicate with his peers. This newfound skill eventually helped him transition from being the student to the teacher.

According to Mukendi, "I was inspired to share the experiences and background and give back to the Air Force as much as he could."

After 11 years serving in the military, Mukendi, now an ALS instructor, not only helps lead future non-commissioned officers, but is also now learning to become a regional expert through his Language Enabled Airman Program selection.

As a LEAP selectee, he has the opportunity to lead and help the Air Force meet its global requirements by allowing him to develop and maintain cultural and language capabilities.

Mukendi, who is fluent in French, was given the opportunity after his selection to go back to Africa to further develop his existing language proficiency to help the Air Force.

"I am blessed with the aptitude of a different language and I am happy that the Air Force recognizes that," said Mukendi. "This is a great opportunity, as I am able to give back to the Air Force through my cultural experience."

On his return to Africa, he and several other selectees stayed in Lome University, which is located in the country of Togo. Throughout the stay, interaction among the students, locals and military helped immerse them in the culture on a daily basis.

"It was great learning new things, the locals took good care of us," said Mukendi. "I learned a phrase while I was there "c'est gratuit" which means "it's free." "They were basically telling us that whatever deeds they did for us were free and we did not have to worry about giving anything back."

According to Mukendi, the thirty days in Togo gave a lot more back than expected. He was able to gain a cultural experience, not as an African citizen, but as a member of the United States Air Force.

"As a young boy I was always taught that it's all about giving back," said Mukendi. "I am finally giving back to the Air Force who has given so much to me, I am able to share my experiences with my students, coworkers and future Airmen."